Public health researcher Dr Anna Matheson (pictured above), Te Pūnaha Matatini investigator and senior lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington, specialises in applying complexity theory to aid our understanding of actions that reduce health inequalities, research that has been recognised globally.
Anna is particularly interested in the use of novel approaches to social intervention that take account of social complexity, and has been involved in numerous research projects related to the social determinants of health, barriers to and through health systems, and approaches to reducing health inequalities in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Playing a key role in community health research
Anna’s current work includes co-leading the evaluation of Healthy Families NZ, which is funded by the Ministry of Health, and as a co-investigator on two community action research projects funded by the Health Research Council.
“Together with a colleague, we designed and are carrying out an evaluation, grounded in complexity theory, of a multi-community intervention to prevent chronic diseases – Healthy Families NZ,” said Anna.
“The approach we have taken is sensitive to context, and accounts for multi-level actions and perspectives which has been shown to be a big challenge in large-scale public health evaluations. Complexity theory has helped me to theorise and articulate the way that health inequalities arise in relation to excluded communities such as Māori and Pasifika.”
“Complexity theory has helped me to theorise and articulate the way that health inequalities arise in relation to excluded communities such as Māori and Pasifika.”
When brought together with the evidence, the theory shows that causes of health inequalities are systemic. These systemic causes compound in individuals and communities. For example, Māori and Pacific people experience multiple barriers to, and through, the health system, as well as being impacted by multiple levels of discrimination and other determinants of health such as income, education and housing.
“I have used this understanding of the social processes leading to health inequalities to inform the ideas in articles I have written about what this means for how to intervene to reduce health inequalities,” said Anna.
Importance of international health research connections
Connections abroad are incredibly important, said Anna, with international conferences and meetings being great opportunities to share her research findings and contribute to knowledge globally. Of note, she was recently invited to be a Fellow of the Salzburg Global Seminar (SGS), a prestigious non-profit organisation set-up 70 years ago to promote peace and the exchange of ideas across people and nations.
Fascinating op-ed by @DrAMatheson on the Salzburg Global Seminar! “Particularly heartening for me was hearing all the passionate discussions that normalised talk of complex systems & the need for systems change in relation to health and equity.” Read here: https://t.co/3A0L2DatQJ
— Te Pūnaha Matatini (@PunahaMatatini) January 22, 2018
Following her attendance at a SGS session on ‘Building Healthier Communities: The Role of Hospitals’, Anna led the writing of an article for the BMJ, one of the world’s leading medical journals, with co-authors from Australia, Pakistan and Rwanda.
“It has been valuable to see how people in different countries are thinking about complexity and health, as well as the innovative approaches being taken to improve complex health outcomes, and the enormous challenges that some countries face,” said Anna.
“It has been valuable to see how people in different countries are thinking about complexity and health, as well as the innovative approaches being taken to improve complex health outcomes, and the enormous challenges that some countries face.”
“These international connections have also provided me with a very positive perspective on my own work. The relationship with SGS is on-going, and they have an interest in the career development of those they invite to attend. I have also provided suggestions of others working in innovative community action areas within New Zealand to attend SGS sessions.”